In this post I suggest ways of helping children develop friendship skills, and describe some readilearn resources for celebrating friendship.
Developing a welcoming, happy, supportive classroom environment, a place where children want to be, is essential for learners of all ages, but especially so in early childhood. These classrooms are the first that children experience and influence lifelong attitudes to school and learning. It is important to establish strong foundations with positive attitudes, respect, and friendship.
Making friends doesn’t come easily to everyone. Simply being put with a whole bunch of other children of similar ages doesn’t ensure friendships will be established, or that children will be accepting of, and respectful to, others.
Strategies for helping children develop effective social skills need to be interwoven throughout the curriculum. Respect, kindness, and empathy need to be modelled and taught. It is especially important for children who have had limited experience mixing with others, or for those who respond to others in inappropriate or unkind ways.
Some useful strategies include:
- Develop a vocabulary of words used to describe feelings. Words help us understand our own feelings, and the feelings of others. The better we are able to describe our feelings; the more able others are to understand them.
- Discuss reactions to real situations (with name changes, if necessary), hypothetical situations, or situations portrayed in books:
How is the character feeling?
Why does the character feel that way?
How can the character change the feeling?
How would you feel?
How would you respond?
- Help children understand that feelings and reactions are a choice; for example, one can choose to feel upset if others poke out their tongues (a frequent complaint), or can ignore it and simply consider it a silly thing to do. I used to suggest that children calmly respond with, “I’ve got one of those too – see!” I don’t know if the retort was ever used, but the child would smile and realise the insignificance of the complaint. If they can choose their feelings about little things, they can learn to choose feelings about bigger things.
- Notice and acknowledge kind things children do for each other, and encourage them to notice and acknowledge too.
- Conduct role play situations of being a good friend. Give children practice of asking to join in games, and accepting the requests of others. Demonstrate and discuss appropriate responses.
- Read and discuss stories that deal with friendship issues; for example, Willy the Wimp by Anthony Browne.
- Regularly incorporate games, such as Snakes and Ladders, that require turn taking, sharing, abiding by rules, and accepting results.
- Be flexible when assigning children to learning groups. Give children opportunities of working with everyone else, not just the same group of children.
The end of the school year in Australia coincides with Christmas and the end of the calendar year. While friendships should be celebrated all year round, the end of the school year is a great time for celebrating friendships that have been formed during the year. In other countries, where the school year is still in progress, new, developing, and established friendships can all be celebrated.
Combining celebrations of friendship and Christmas work well; but celebrating with a friendship tree does not limit the celebration to Christmas, and can be inclusive of all children in the class.
Friendship trees is a powerful self-esteem, confidence and friendship building activity. Each child makes a friendship tree which classmates fill with anonymous positive messages of friendship and affirmation. When filled, children take their trees home and read all the positive messages that have been written by their classmates.
readilearn resources that support implementation of the friendship tree activity:
- Procedure: How to make a friendship tree, ready for display on the whiteboard
- Friendship tree template — a template to print for each child
- Friendship messages — examples of friendship messages to print and display in the classroom
- Friendship tree message strips — blank friendship message strips to personalise and print for your class
The instructions are also available as a printable set of step-by-step instructions on one page: How to make a friendship tree – printable instructions.
I have always been impressed by the very positive and personal messages students write to each other.
Another great activity for celebrating friendship, community, and cooperation at this time of year is the creation of a large 3D classroom tree display. All members of the class contribute to its construction by giving ‘a hand’. Children are proud of their individual contribution and of the result of their cooperative efforts. It is a visible recognition of the value of teamwork and will be admired by many.
Remember to check out readilearn resources, such as Getting ready for the first day with Busy bee resources, to help in the establishment of a welcoming supportive classroom.
I hope you and your children enjoy using these resources to celebrate friendship.
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I’ll see you next week. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend.
Thank you for reading.
Happy teaching and learning,
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